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Equalization hearing packs City Hall meeting room

At least 29 Kenmare property owners signed petitions officially protesting their 2014 tax valuations.

4/28/15 (Tue)

Tax protest... From left, Marvin Lindquist,  looks over a document while Eric Sieg sings one officially protesting his 2014 property tax valuation during a tax equalization hearing held in Kenmare City Hall April 21, with Jody Olson, pictured at right. They were among 29 people who protested their 2014 valuations.

By Marvin Baker

At least 29 Kenmare property owners signed petitions officially protesting their 2014 tax valuations.

Several others who were absent from Tuesday’s equalization meeting were expected to also file with Ward County rather than Kenmare city.

The protests here orderly and swift before the Kenmare City Council whose only action during the 45-minute meeting was to approve Ward County’s new valuations and allow for amendments.

Those who documented their angst with their increased valuation are now turned over to the Ward County Equalization Board which will meet with each individual property owner in hearings for about an hour each to discuss their valuations, some that said their properties have increased 70 percent.

If a compromise isn’t met, the Ward County Equalization Board will meet June 2, which is a second option for people to protest their valuations, according to Ryan Kamrowski, the tax equalization director for Ward County.

Kamrowski attended Tuesday’s meeting and worked through some difficult questions including “why did my taxes go up so much?”

“If you look at valuation, it’s our opinion of what the valuation is,” Kamrowski said. “Our job, required by state law, is to be 90 percent compliant.”

Kamrowski told the group that continued flowing in well after the meeting started, that his team assessed every property other than commercial in Kenmare.

“We’ve gone house to house and if you weren’t there, we left a message on the door,” Kamrowski said. “We physically walked the whole town and assessed every property.”

He added that if his team was denied access to anyone’s property, they estimated the value.

Commercial property appraisals were completed by a third party.

“As a whole, Kenmare city went up,” Kamrowski said. “I’m here to reiterate that valuations are based off sales in Kenmare not Minot.”

He clarified however, that because most property sales in Ward County were in Minot, that was figured into the equation, but then Kenmare was provided a 35 percent Obsolescence.

Still, after that message, people remained concerned, primarily because the increase, in nearly every case, was so steep.

Only two people raised their hands when Kamrowski asked if anyone’s valuation decreased.

“The oilfield drove up prices, now they’re slacking off. What do we do then, eat the difference,” Steve Johnson asked Kamrowski? “Wouldn’t it be a red flag when a property went from $200 to $13,000?”

Johnson, who lives in a house built in 1898, said the valuation increased by more than $50,000. He asked why because there is no way his house could be valued that high.

Another person at the hearing said his valuation increased $70,000 since he moved into the house in December 2013.

“And all I did was pump water out of the basement,” he said. “What could have changed that much.”

Kamrowski said it’s all based on prior year sales, but that a blanket evaluation hasn’t happened since 1991.

“So next year, if sales go down 5 percent, we’ll drop the valuation by 5 percent,” Kamrowski said. “We have to use prior year sales. It’s required by law.”

He said empty lots were generally assessed at $2 per square foot, explaining why vacant lots increased as they did.

But Kenmare City Council member Todd Ankenbauer reminded Kamrowski that some of those properties are not accessible and most likely shouldn’t be increased so sharply.

“You have to bring that to our attention,” Kamrowski said.

He added that new construction isn’t assessed its true value unit a project is completed. And if a project goes into a new year, it will be assessed the second year and assessed a higher value as per the percentage of completion.

Kamrowski continued to counter people’s questions stating valuations across the state have risen since 2009.

One individual asked Kamrowski if the prior year sales he continued to talk about are based on real estate sales, or could be based on real estate sales?

He said no. Instead the equalization board looks at sales that have been made at lending institutions.

“It’s a cat and mouse game for us trying to catch up to prior year sales,” Kamrowski said. “But we feel the valuations are an unbiased assessment.”

The net taxable sales for Kenmare increased from $2.6 million to $2.9 million, according to Kamrowski. That included residential and commercial net taxable value without utilities.

The true and full value of all properties in Kenmare jumped from $43 million last year to $75 million today, he added.

“What this is telling us is this is getting us where we’re supposed to be or where we’ve been,” said Kenmare Mayor Roger Ness. “Meeting adjourned, now everyone, sign up.”

Kamrowski said the equalization board will contact each individual who signed the roster in official protest and after contacting them and meeting with them, will send out a second assessor to re-evaluate the property if a compromise isn’t reached.

“By law, you have to be here to protest, but you can go to the county hearing on June 2” Kamrowski said. “There are four stages of protest; city/township, county, state and District Court of Appeals. So this isn’t your last chance to protest.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!